Thursday, April 28, 2011

Top Chef Masters - Naomi Might Be A Pain, But Her Soup Garnish Is A Complete Revelation

I’ve garnished soup every which way with the usual things - croutons; chopped vegetables, frico, cream and sour cream, full-blown cheesy croutes loaded with gruyere (the best way to garnish onion soup); seafood, puff pastry crowns (LOVE THOSE!) and probably lots of other things that are escaping me for the moment.

But I have never garnished any soup with the interesting combination of items that Naomi used for her Celery Velouté. They turned out to be an ingenious, lively and quite masterly addition to a very basic soup that I don’t even like that much.

Naomi won last week’s episode of Top Chef Masters with her Celery Velouté, which, at the time, was a bit of a surprise. As I said, I don’t even like cooked celery, except in turkey stuffing, but I needed a pretty Easter soup, so I decided to try it.

The recipe is rather loosey-goosey, which annoyed me at first. Then I realized that I NEVER follow any recipe exactly, so why should I care?  Aren’t most cooks like that? When you’ve been cooking for a long time and you know your way around certain techniques, you tend to follow your instincts when you think aspects of a recipe can be improved upon. 

The funny thing is that, as lackadaisical as I am about FOLLOWING other people’s recipes, I’m completely the opposite about WRITING them. Feel free to follow this recipe exactly as written, but, of course, feel free to play with it too.

Back to the garnishes. Believe me when I tell you that I have NEVER had such delicious additions to any soup, anytime, anywhere. These were the three garnishes:
1. Shallots steeped in white wine vinegar and a little salt. 

2. Chopped Parsley steeped in olive oil.

3. The best and most fragrant and flavorful Lemon Olive Oil.
AND listen to this, I only realized, JUST NOW, as I was looking over Naomi’s recipe that I was supposed to COMBINE the chopped herb/oil mixture with the shallot and vinegar, but I didn’t. I used them separately and I will again. And again.

WHY were these garnishes so exceptional? The shallots gave an unexpected crunch to the soup. And the vinegar with it gave the soup some sharpness and brightness. The parsley added a brilliant complementary color.

And the lemon oil.  Ahhh, the lemon oil! It took the pedestrian taste of a soup  I don’t usually care for and elevated it to a richly complex set of flavors that was absolutely irresistible.


Plus I was lucky. I happened to have a twenty-plus dollar bottle of lemon olive oil  (unopened) in my pantry. I know it’s really pricey (it was a gift), but I’ll give you an alternative in the recipe. It’s not the put-your-head-in-tailspin-rush-of-flavor, but it will do in a pinch. Enjoy this recipe. I can’t believe how much I did.

Celery Velouté (4 generous servings)
Adapted from Naomi Pomeroy’s Celery Velouté With Salsa Verde & Lemon Oil

2 tbls. butter
6 stalks celery, chopped
2 leeks, most of green tops cut off, halved and chopped
2 onions, chopped
Kosher salt
4 cups vegetable stock
½ cup cream

4 tbls. chopped parsley
2 tbls. olive oil
2 tbls. shallots, finely minced
2 tbls. white wine vinegar
¼ tsp. kosher salt
A few swigs of lemon olive oil

Melt butter in large Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot. Add celery, leeks and onions. Stir well. Add a big pinch of salt, which will draw out the liquid and help to soften the vegetables. 


Start pot on medium heat. When it sizzles, cover and turn heat to low. Stirring occasionally, cook until vegetables are completely soft, at least 10 to 15 minutes. (I did 20.)

Stir in stock. Bring to boil, cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir together parsley and olive oil. In a separate little bowl, stir together shallots, vinegar and salt.

Add cream to soup. Simmer, covered, for another 5 minutes.

Let cool slightly. Purée in batches until completely smooth. Pour into individual soup bowls. Add a teaspoon of shallots to the center of the bowl. Spoon a teaspoon of the parsley mixture next to the shallots. Pour in a dab of lemon olive oil next to the other garnishes.  Serve.

·         Soup can be served hot or cold. It can easily be made a day or two in advance.

Instead of the lemon olive oil, add plenty of lemon rind to the parsley/olive oil mixture and the shallot/vinegar mixture. And grate a bit extra over the top just before serving.



Tracy said...

Wow. I was curious about what would make a celery a soup a winner, but it didn't occur to me to cook it! Good for you. I just may have to try it, especially given your high praise for the garnishes.

Sue said...

I thought it was interesting that this soup won too. Let me know what you think if you make it. And, as I said, the garnishes completely make it!

Coupon said...

Okay, I saw this episode, and thought to myself I must make this! I just got back from Whole Foods, where a few brands of the Lemon EVOO was available (varying in price). I opted for the cheapest, which was only $10.99 (Olave EVOO, 250 ml). I will be making this for dinner!